The greatest Christmas present: being present

I know you know that Christmas can be stressful. Forget that, Christmas is stressful. In fact, hold on, has someone actually designed-in stress to Christmas as a way of making more money from us? Or is that a conspiracy theory too far? OK, so assuming no-one’s actually deliberately manipulating our stress levels against our will at Christmas, we’re probably more in control of the Christmassy goings on than we think.

Present-buying, late-night shopping, organising family events, friend get-togethers, work socials, Christmas dinner organising, cooking, hosting, present-giving, family tensions, and overindulging. All these things can be seen as standard stresses that we associate with Christmas but they’re also kind of restricted to just Christmas itself – like nothing else is quite like it for creating that nervous anxiety. So in today’s podcast, I want to talk about staying present at Christmas and keeping focused on the important things, so you don’t get washed away in a sea of unsatisfying busyness only to wake up on Boxing Day needing a serious holiday and wondering what the last few weeks have all been for.

My name’s Dr Paul Brewerton, the strengths guy, I help you get the best from your work life, and life life, every day by giving you tips and hints on staying authentic and true to who you are by knowing and playing to your strengths as often as possible. My podcasts are published every Monday morning in readiness for your commute to work. So let’s get to it.

First of all, what is ‘being present’? People who meditate or do yoga will talk about being present as a desired state and is often one of the benefits of these practices – but whether you do yoga or meditate or do neither, being present is essentially about being in the moment, the here and now, not thinking about the past or the future of worrying about either but just noticing you, your surroundings and your emotions right here at this very moment in time. And it’s beneficial to get good at this – research tells us that people who more live in the moment more of the time tend to be happier, calmer, more relaxed and more appreciative and grateful for all that the world offers.

Now being present at Christmas gets even more challenging than at not Christmas because of busyness levels but the special aspects of Christmas, the special bits for you personally are many, and there are probably more special moments that you can experience at this time of year than at any other other time of the year. So first up, get clear and keep clear what you enjoy most about Christmas and stay true to that right the way through Christmas season, so you don’t miss those special experiences that give you all the enjoyment.

Do I have any ideas on how to pinpoint your particular flavour of Christmas special-ness? A good way I’ve found is to tell someone else what you love most about Christmas, someone who perhaps doesn’t know you so well but is interested enough to listen and just spend a few minutes swapping Christmas memories and stories of what you most enjoyed with each other. Once you’ve nailed that, you’re in a much better place to make sure you make the most of those moments, really savour and enjoy them, when they come along.
Now, how to be present…some top tips…

1. Slow it down – come out of the rush.

I have a podcast on Going slow at Season 1 Episode 10 if you’re interested in this subject but for now, I’ll just say that to be present, you need to be able to step out of the rush and stress and busy busy and almost observe yourself and the goings on around you at a slowed down pace, so you can really take it all in. A couple of cute ways of doing this are…

First, breathe – just a few deep breaths where you focus on your breath wherever you are, once you get good at this, can help to bring you back to you, centre you, reduce feelings of tension or anxiety and calm you again, because it’s only YOU that’s in control of your breathing, and that reminds you that you’re in control of your response to what’s going on around you, rather than letting things feel overwhelming.

Second, take a moment to allow your whole field of vision to be filled – so once you’ve got your breathing down, allow your visual field to open up so that your peripheral vision and other senses are in play and you can see, hear, feel and smell more of everything that’s going on around you. When you get used to doing this, it can feel pretty intense and incredible because it’s like you’re lifting a veil somehow, a narrowing of your focus that you use most of the time to just get stuff done. But if you do it when you feel in control and when you’re going slower, it can open up greater opportunities to key into my other tips, including…

2. Look for small moments

So coming out of your narrow focus, slowing down and opening up your sensory field and breathing allows you to sense ‘normal’ moments in a new light – with an appreciation for how people are interacting, what others are experiencing and to see things that you wouldn’t necessarily have seen, or appreciated, otherwise. I was at a business meeting with a colleague earlier this year sat in a hotel breakfast area in London and we were very focused on the topic at hand – it was a tricky subject and we were trying to come up with a solution.

I disengaged from that processing of information for a minute and then saw the most amazing view through the window, willow branches moving in the wind and through those, this beautiful lake right in the centre of London and I pointed it out to my colleague – I just said ‘look at that’ and we both stopped and took a moment to appreciate what we were seeing. We went back to our discussion, but in a different mental state, more relaxed, slower and with a new perspective. We got to a solution on the tricky topic in what seemed like no time at all.

3. Smile and laugh…often

There are all sorts of research findings about the importance of smiling and of laughing – both physiologically and psychologically for you personally, but also the reciprocal benefits for others, and therefore for you too, when you send smiles and laughter out into the world. So the slower you go, the more present you get, the more you’re likely to witness special moments and smile as this happens, and when you do this, the more other people are likely to be positively affected.

It may sound like I’m describing some kind of zen-like Buddha character floating around through time and space smiling on the world, but I’m not, I’m talking about taking a moment from time to time to just open yourself to a bigger world than the one that’s your Christmas present to do list, even if only for a few seconds.
When you get good at these things and build them into your day to day, it will be so so much easier to remember what matters to you at Christmas and really, genuinely, wholeheartedly savour those moments by being present in them.

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